FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Feb 22, 2024

Chilling Classics Cthursday: CATHY'S CURSE (1977)

After the disappointment bestowed on me last week, RNGesus did me a real solid this time around, blessing me with an excuse to watch Cathy's Curse (1977) for the gazillionth time. In fact, it was thanks to this very same Mill Creek multi-pack that I saw it for the firstillionth time way back in 2009, and I wrote about it for this very site. The fact that a pull-quote from that review ended up on Severin's Blu-ray release of the film is one of THEE honors of my life, and I am not even kidding!

As always, "film," simultaneously feels like too strong a word for Cathy's Curse and a word that is not nearly strong enough for Cathy's Curse. This is because it transcends not only our mortal concept of what a "film" is, but it transcends our earthly laws entirely. I wrote about this phenomenon a couple of SHOCKtobers past, in the one where I talked about my favorite horror movie characters. 

[...] Cathy's Curse is here to remind you that you know absolutely nothing and you never truly will. Like a member of The Flat Earth Society or a cinematic hardened rogue vigilante cop, Cathy's Curse feels stifled by "the law," be it the law of man or the law of nature. Cathy's Curse operates outside the system, beholden only to the rules of its own world, a world in which the logic of our world simply doesn't apply. Nothing has meaning. Meaning itself has no meaning. It laughs at your struggle as you try to figure it out, as you try to impose order on its chaos--for within this film there is only chaos.

Of course, Cathy's Curse isn't really film, it's more...something you experience. It's something that happens to you. It lingers, clouding your brain, clogging it with thoughts that may not be your own. Time will no longer have meaning. Meaning will no longer have meaning. Your new life will be consumed by Cathy's Curse, as mine was long ago, and your only choices are to adapt or to die. It's the Cathy's Curse curse!

I've written about Cathy's Curse a lot. And I've talked about it even more. If you've never seen beheld it before, please avail yourself of it ASAP. Then you will see why I write and talk about it so much. In fact, I've written and talked about it so much that I don't know what I can say about it now that I haven't already said. It rules! So you could read my original review, or you could read that SHOCKtober post, or you could listen to episode 127 of Gaylords of Darkness ("Waterside Fisting"), or honestly you could just run into me at the grocery store and I will tell you all about it. 

That's because Cathy's Curse has and continues to enrich my life in countless ways. And I want it to do the same for you, because I care!  



Feb 15, 2024

Chilling Classics Cthursday: PANIC (1982)

It's been a while since I've called a movie a "Tiffany" around these parts, but it's so very on point for today's Chilling Classic that I'm busting the term out again. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the musical stylings of the artist Tiffany, a Tiffany movie is one that she could have been singing about/to in her 1987 hit song "Could've Been." To wit:

When I think about

What could've been

It makes me want to cry

--

Could've been so beautiful

Could've been so right

You can't hold what could've been

On a cold and lonely night

No-uh-oh, no-uh-oh, oh-oh

That last line was me weeping as I put Disk 7 back in its cardboard sleeve, then put the cardboard sleeve back in its cardboard box. No-uh-oh, no-uh-oh, oh-oh I cried, because Tonino Ricci's Panic (aka Bakterion) sounded so good on that cardboard sleeve, despite the typo that says "a deadly variety" instead of "a deadly virus." (Never change, Mill Creek.) To wit again:

It's an early 80s Italian movie starring Fulci veterans David Warbeck (The Beyond) and Janet Agren (City of the Living Dead). A scientist is exposed to a deadly variety a deadly virus and then wreaks havoc around a London suburb, killing people and drinking all their blood. To contain the contagion, the government decides to employ "Plan Q" and drop a bomb on said suburb.

It sounds awesome and I was so pumped for it. Things started off pretty great, when a horny young couple were killed right before they were gonna DO IT in a car, as is the fate of all horror movie horny young couples about to DO IT in cars.

My future with Panic only got brighter in early scenes at the chemical company, which was called ChemiCALE. We are told that two living beings were missing from the lab after the accident with the "indestructible virus" -- Professor Adams, who was working on said virus, and a guinea pig. But not just any guinea pig, mind you: this infected guinea pig, the ChemiCALE scientists said, could have grown to the size of a dog, or even a lion.

Now, this was not an explicit promise that I would see a lion-sized guinea pig at some point, but it established the promise of a dog-or-lion-sized guinea being out there somewhere. A fine point to be sure, but one I clung to all throughout Panic. Finally they found the guinea pig, I guess, in a sewer, and I imagine that you can imagine my disappointment:

It brought to mind my 8th grade Algebra teacher, who spent weeks psyching us up for an end-of-year game day, for which one of the prizes would be "a giant Hershey bar." He would really stress the "giant" in "giant Hershey bar," and talked it up as theee incentive for us to try to whip each other's ass in Algebra showdowns. When the day finally arrived and he finally took the "giant Hershey bar" out of his briefcase, it was snack-sized. This was his joke! But as you see, the wounds from that joke and that day never truly healed, and they may never, for Panic's "dog-or-lion-sized guinea pig" tore them open anew. 

Anyway. 

I know I started this off by calling Panic a Tiffany, and I know in my heart that it's true. It has so much going for it, and yet it just...wasn't good. I know that's a basic-ass criticism, but it's true. It's plodding. Despite the countdown-to-bombing conceit, there's no urgency or tension to any of it. Warbeck's Captain Kirk (yes, his name is Captain Kirk) boldly goes into the sewers in search of Professor Adams, but he just sort of strolls even when the deadline is nigh. The whole thing ends with the lamest, most anticlimactic final shot you could possibly imagine, and to keep with the "urgent thing handled in a lackadaisical manner" theme Ricci employs, the half-assed 4th wall-breaking "warning" to the audience comes after the credits have completely rolled.

And yet! I already feel like I'm Eternal Sunshine-ing myself, forgetting and/or ignoring how disappointing Panic was. It's got so much going for it, how could it be a disappointment? 

Like all the dubbed voice acting, which is a cornucopia of every British accent you can imagine, from the stereotypically snooty guy to women who sound like Hyacinth Bucket to random Cockney folk to everyone in between. Or maybe when Janet Agren, Scientist, says "I just have to find out if this is a contagious virus!" and then starts click-clacking on a computer keyboard.

There's a scene in a movie theatre where the mutated Professor Adams rips through the screen to go on the attack; I love a movie theatre scene in my horror! And speaking of Professor Adams, when we finally get a good look at him, we can see that he resembles those raspberry gummy candies.



And then, of course, let's not forget the dog-or-lion-sized guinea pig, which--hey wait, that was the biggest let-down in this movie! I am going to remember Panic for what it was (a disappointment), not what I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be beautiful and so right--and it could've been--but it was not. Not at all. No-uh-oh, no-uh-oh, oh-oh. 

Feb 8, 2024

Chilling Classics Cthursday: OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES (1982)

At the risk of being thrown out of both the Real Horror Fans Gang and the Society of Lesbian Vampire Enjoyers, I must speak my truth: I do not enjoy the films of Jess Franco. Female Vampire almost makes the cut, but to be honest I would rather simply partake in the undeniably striking stills of Lina Romay from that movie than watch it again. I wish I could appreciate Franco's work more. If I had the FrancoVision that his fans seem to have, I would see the art they claim is in his oeuvre, you know, the dream-like atmosphere and all that. Sadly, however, I am saddled with FinalGirlVision, and all that allows me to see is NO.

And so it is with this week's Tale from the Mill Creek 50-Pack Oasis of the Zombies, a film I liked better during that minute or two at the start when I misremembered it as a Bruno Mattei joint. And I'm not even wild about Bruno Mattei joints!

A group of French college students head to an oasis in the African desert (just "African" will do, natch) in search of Nazi gold that was lost when the Nazis were killed in a battle in 1943. But for some reason the oasis is cursed, I guess, and the dead Nazis return as the living dead to eat anyone who gets too close. 

les students

l'oasis

This exceedingly simple tale is told in exceedingly tedious fashion, as we are treated to interminable flashbacks and shots that are repeated ad nauseam, such as this skull and this spider (yes, that golden blob is a spider). 



Franco's style in Oasis of the Zombies seems to be "point the camera at stuff and maybe the stuff you're pointing the camera at will actually be in the frame...oh and doin't forget to do all those zooms, you're Jess Franco!" The overall effect is one somehow completely devoid of atmosphere, and frankly (Francoly?) the entire affair feels inept.

The zombies themselves are typical of the European zombie flicks of the era, although they fall a little more on the papier-mâché side of things as opposed to the more oatmeal-faced undead found in a Fulci film. Most of them have a worm or two wriggling around on 'em, which is a nice touch. There's a regular roster of shambling corpses here, and each gets their moment to shine in a rotating series of repeated close-ups.



This guy was my favorite, for obvious reasons:


These close-ups and the few group shots are reminiscent of Fulci's Zombie (1979); as I am an unabashed freak for that movie, I couldn't help but wonder why Oasis of the Zombies boasted several of the same techniques but left me so cold.

Leaving aside the...mmm, let's call the--the repeated still lifes, the unnecessary zooms--"stylistic choices," Oasis of the Zombies is just a fucking drag. It's poorly paced and plodding, and when it's time for zombie action, it's bereft of any action. The victims go "aahhh" and lie down, maybe they get bitten once or twice while they go "noooo" and pathetically slap at the zombies, and then they are dead. 


If these sad scenes were (un)livened up with some gore, at least there'd be some spectacle. However, we get one gore shot which is almost complete obscured. I get that it was likely a budget issue, but hey, I never said the gore had to be good. But if you're making a sleazy European gut-muncher, I think you should add some gut-munching. And some sleaze. Oasis of the Zombies has neither. But it does have a lot of shots of camels and sand dunes, and as a fan of both they pleased me. Also those shots reminded me of the time The Real Housewives of New York went to Morocco and Countess Luann almost got bucked off an ornery camel; the scene is more Oscar-worthy than Oasis is, that's for sure.  

I will give major props to the climax of the film, wherein night begins to fall and zombies slowly trudge over the dunes towards the students' camp. I'm not sure why the zombies are suddenly so far away from the oasis, but it looks cool and gives us the best shots in the movie, so who cares.



There's a little pizzazz during this final showdown as the students surround themselves with a burning ring of fire and chuck molotovs at the undead. But much of the pizzazz is indiscernible as Franco's camera often centers, like, someone's knee instead of anything worthwhile. Then the sun comes up and any remaining zombies fade into nothingness, which is weird because we've seen them out and about in the daylight before this. Oh well.

While watching Oasis of the Zombies, I felt like that famous time-lapse sequence in The Haunting (1963, duh), where we see Abigail Crane morph from a young lass to a withered crone. Like I could feel that happening to me as the movie played out over the longest 82 minutes of my life. The only difference was that I of course started out as a withered crone and simply became crone-ier.

I would say that there's something good in the story, some potential, if one wants to imagine the adventure-horror-zombie flick that could have been. But that's a bit like saying that a house has "good bones" when everything except the bathroom wallpaper needs to be trashed.

It's always a bummer when a horror movie is a bummer, and so it's a bummer that this week's offering from Mill Creek was a bummer indeed. But hey, you know what they say: We make plans, and the 50-pack laughs. Better luck next time!

Feb 1, 2024

Chilling Classics Cthursday: WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS' DORMITORY (1961)

It used to be that when I would sit around fantasizing over what I'd teach were I a film professor, I would picture a syllabus with Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes written over and over and over, as if it was a document that Wendy Torrance found in her husband's typewriter. Now that I've seen Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory, however, I think I would shift, like, two of the Amityville 4 credit hours to covering it. I was not anticipating this outcome when its number came up and I pulled it from the 50-pack, that's for sure. But then, I didn't know it'd be a little treat with some feminist ideas sprinkled in here and there, and it'd be a...well, maybe not a prime example, but an example nonetheless of the ways in which localized film distribution can really do a movie wrong.

Its schlocky title alone recalls other sock hop screamers and drive-in fare from the era, à la 1959's Attack of the Giant Leeches or The Blob (1958); Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory even features its own catchy Blob-esque title tune, "The Ghoul in School," which would go on to be released on 45rpm. 

Side note: the Chilling Classics version of this movie omits both the song and the kooky/monstrous opening title card featuring a Dr Seuss sleep paralysis demon. Mill Creek does it again!

While all those goofy gewgaws serve to set up expectations in the viewer's mind, the movie very quickly undoes all of them by revealing its true nature. Why, this isn't a Gene or Roger Corman joint! Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory was released in the US in 1963, but it's--gasp--an Italian-Austrian film from 1961, née Lycanthropus! This wasn't directed by some "Richard Benson," it was Paolo Heusch at the helm. Meanwhile, writer Ernesto Gastaldi wasn't credited at all, English pseudonym or otherwise. But he's maybe best known as the co-writer of Bava's The Whip and the Body and Sergio Martino's Torso. Oh, and of course Ruggero Deodato's rip-off of The Concorde...Airport '79, appropriately titled Concorde Affaire '79.

It's possible that I am the only person who didn't know all of the truth behind Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory, especially as a super-deluxe, 2-disc uncut version of the film was released by Severin a couple of years ago. Yes, another film in the Mill Creek Chilling Classics to fancy pants edition pipeline! So sure, everyone else may have been on the Lycanthropus train long ago, but the shock of this information gave me a white streak in my hair, like Nancy Thompson at the end of A Nightmare on Elm Street.

The titular dormitory, as it were, is a sprawling, gothic "institute" set deep in the woods that serves as a kind of reform school, one that hopes to set the wayward girls on the right path without the punishing nature of the judicial system. "They've found out about the bitterness of life much too early," one character explains, to which I responded (in my head...I'm not a weirdo) "Was this movie formative at all for The House That Screamed, which I fucking loved?" Three more white streaks immediately manifested in my locks. Should anyone ask why I look like a zebra from the neck up, I will happily tell them it's because I found out all at once that Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory is lit.

A student named Mary sneaks out one night to meet the much-older Sir Alfred in the woods. They have a sexual relationship, but Mary is only in it in the hopes that Alfred can get her out of the institute, as he sits on the school's board. He has no reason to make this happen quickly, obviously, and Mary is fed up and threatening blackmail. On her way home, she's chased through the dark by a man-shaped monster before being attacked and killed in a way that certainly makes this all seem like a sexual assault. "Is this movie...an allegory?" I said (again, in my head). Cue another coif streak.


While I love little more than seeing subtext and meaning in any ol' film in front of my eyeballs, Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory indeed makes the subtext text. "You're a beast, not a man," says Alfred's wife Sheena as they discuss his propensity for taking advantage of the girls. 

Or take this exchange between the new science professor (who studies wolves on the side) and Priscilla, the student who takes it upon herself to find out who--or what--really killed Mary:

"I'm fixing traps to save the forest from wolves," the professor boasts.
"In a certain sense, we're doing the same thing," Priscilla replies.

Mary and Priscilla were friends before they came to the institute as well; Priscilla garnered a charge of attempted murder and landed in the reform school when she nearly beat to death a sailor who was attacking Mary. Priscilla, the Protector and Avenger of Women! Priscilla is a hero for the ages, we could all use a Priscilla, I would die for Priscilla, etc etc. 

Polish actress Barbara Lass was married to Roman Polanski around the time this movie was filmed

So who is the werewolf? Is it the hunky new science professor, who has a shady past as a doctor and as I mentioned, studies wolves? 


Is it the sleazy Sir Andrew, or the school's sleazy caretaker, who sets up all of Sir Andrew's "dalliances" and reminds me of Peter Lorre?


Is it Sir Andrew's wife, who, as seen in this stylish shot, is cool?


Maybe it's any of the other teachers, or possibly even a student?

Well, I won't spoil it for you even though this movie is literally over 60 years old. But you'll know who it is the first time you see the werewolf's face, because despite the prosthetics you can tell which actor it is.

But that's okay! Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory is a whodunnit mystery with some gothic and giallo touches more than it is your typical werewolf-flavored horror flick. In fact, a more apt title for this than Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory or Lycanthropus might be Love and the Ethics of Lycanthropy. Or maybe Priscilla Rules.

Man, what a total surprise and a treat this was. Hokey drive-in monster movies are fun, and if that's all this film ended up being it would likely have been a fine time. But ultimately Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory Priscilla Rules is something meatier than that, deserving of a spot...well, surely somewhere in the annals of Italian horror.